New research explains how our biological clock influences responses to vaccines

Research conducted by the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has provided new insights into the mechanism behind how our 24-hour circadian biological clock influences our immune response to vaccines, depending on the time of day.

The article published in nature communications examined changes that take place in the mitochondria of a key immune cell involved in the vaccine response and could help improve the design and timing of future vaccines to maximize efficacy.

It had previously been found that humans have a greater response to certain vaccines depending on the time of day the vaccine is administered, however the reason behind this was not clearly understood. This research has discovered that our circadian clock is changing the shape of the mitochondria within dendritic cells. Variations in the structure of mitochondria influence how dendritic cells function throughout the day.

Research author Professor Annie Curtis, from RCSI’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “Our discovery has shed light on a crucial aspect of our body’s response to vaccination and highlights the importance of rhythms “circadians in immunity. We can apply this understanding in vaccine development to ensure we receive the maximum benefits from vaccination.”

The circadian clock within dendritic cells controls whether the mitochondria form one of two shapes, either long chains, ‘webs’, or broken up into small, dotted pieces. It is within the network formation that vaccination is most effective, as dendritic cells have a better ability to break the vaccine down into small fragments to interact with our immune cells (T cells). Within the study, the researchers used an approach to induce the network phase that could have implications for the design of vaccines that allow us to optimize our immune response, regardless of time of day.

The majority of this study was supported by funds provided by the Irish Research Council’s Science Foundation Ireland Career Development Award (CDA) program through a Laureate Award and an RCSI Strategic Academic Recruitment Program (StAR) award. Additional support was provided by a Conacyt grant, an SFI Investigator Award, and a Consolidator Award from the European Research Council.

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